President Yahya Jammeh has declared a state of emergency in Gambia at the very end of his term, in an apparent attempt to hold on to power. Jammeh cited foreign interference in his electoral loss to Adama Barrow.
The state of emergency was declared on national television on Tuesday, only two days before Barrow was due to be sworn in.
Jammeh has refused to accept his loss in the December vote, defying his opponents and massive international pressure to step down. Several African nations have previously warned they might send troops in case he refuses to leave office.
Jammeh, who has ruled Gambia for 22 years, launched a crackdown on the opposition and the media in the weeks following the vote. Security forces also seized control of the electoral commission offices and told the staff to leave.
President-elect Barrow fled to Senegal several days ago.
According to Jammeh's address on Tuesday, the state of emergency was necessary "due to the unprecedented and extraordinary amount of foreign inference in the December 1 presidential elections and also in the internal affairs" of the country.
All citizens and residents were "banned from any acts of disobedience to the laws of The Gambia, incitement to violence, and acts intended to disturb public order and peace," he added.
The measure can last for up to 90 days, according to the constitution.
Army commander backs Jammeh
Jammeh initially said he would step down after the election, but soon changed his position and announced he would appeal the result to the nation's supreme court. Gambia's top military commander, Ousman Badjie, recently restated his "unflinching loyalty" to Jammeh.
In the Tuesday address, Jammeh said that the state of emergency would prevent a "power vacuum" until the court decides on his petition. However, the Supreme Court has been crippled by Jammeh firing several judges in mid-2016, and any ruling should not be expected before May. Additionally, Gambia's chief justice recused himself on Monday and said that he would not rule on the request to block Barrow's inauguration.
Several members of the strongman's cabinet have resigned. Hundreds of Gambian citizens have also fled the country for fear of turmoil turning violent.
African states close ranks against long-time leader
Senegal and several other members of the regional bloc ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) have been vocal in demanding Jammeh step down. It was not immediately clear how the state of emergency would affect their efforts. Jammeh has already warned that sending foreign troops into Gambia could lead to a "military confrontation."
High-ranking military officers across the region have been coordinating a response, a senior Nigerian military source told Reuters on Tuesday.
"The chiefs of defense staff of West African countries met yesterday to discuss strategies on the best way to get Yahya Jammeh out," he told the agency.
"Some West African countries will be contributing troops, including Nigeria, for the operation," said the source, adding that the United Nations and African Union had offered support to the plan.
dj/se (Reuters, AP, AFP)